Considering SO3 XL for guitar shop purposes....thoughts?

Hi all!

I am a full-time builder of custom guitars (electric and acoustic).
I’ve been doing this for 16.5 years full-time, and have lots of time under my belt
with manually-run machines etc.

I’d really like to get in to CNC and have been looking around at all the alternatives, and keep coming back to the SO3 XL as the right combination of price/size/capability.

However, I just want to get a little more confidence that the machine will be capable of the kind of work I need it to do.
I’m not looking to do heavy routing of guitar body perimeters etc. as my 5HP pin router can still outrun CNC by several times over for that kind of work. However, I’d like to make small parts (inlays and inlay pockets, pickup rings, bridges and bridge parts etc.), mill fretboard slots (.023" wide by about .075" deep). and do some 3D surface carving (i.e. arched tops/backs like a violin/mandolin/Gibson guitar).

I’d also like to make routing templates from 1/4" acrylic with high accuracy as I will be using them to make parts on the pin router. I’m assuming this is well within SO3 capacity.

Finally, I want to do some fairly lightweight engraving / milling on 6061 aluminum for decorative parts. I have a manual G0704 mill for structural-type aluminum work, though I might want to make some enclosure plates etc. on the CNC.

(Of course, I’ll also engrave signs and designs for my wife and daughter, to keep them excited about the new purchase! :wink: )

Money is tight and every tool has to pull its weight. I’ve had mixed opinions from my CNC pals about whether or not the SO platform is robust and accurate enough to hold its own in a professional shop. I’m working to close tolerances (+/- .002" on most critical parts) so this is a big consideration.

Please help me figure this out! I am itching to step into CNC and start exploring the possibilities, but wondering if I should just save up longer and get a bigger/screw-driven machine.

Thanks in advance,

As an experienced machinist and user of the Shapeoko machines, this is an ideal machine for guitar making, BUT and it’s a BIG BUT, you will not succeed without a solid knowledge of CADCAM. Meaning, this is not a hobby for you, you have set product, and more importantly you have a set tolerance that you need to work to.

My recommendation is to take a CADCAM class. I took one at an adult training center many years ago and it was exactly what I needed to get these machines to sing and dance to the tune I want them to play.

Now my class was in Unigraphics…but I don’t use Unigraphics… Let me explain. ALL CADCAM systems are almost the same thing, except the buttons are in different locations, so learning another CADCAM is just a matter of a few hours (or days depending on your learning level) SO take a class, any CADCAM class, it’s a must.

PS I use Fusion 360, and was so happy with it, (even though I am a hobby user), I paid for a two year license, it’s that good. I even had a custom Post Processor made so that it was more efficient for my needs.

Edit add:
Feel free to check out some of the things I made from my YouTube channel (Search Richard Cournoyer) or my IG account: JPL_Richard

Also feel free to ask questions.

I just watched 2 videos (One on guitar, and one Violin making) all by hand…and I got so frustrated with them saying how LONG it takes them to produce an instrument…yeah, because you’re not working smart…Yes, I understand it’s an art (I’m a scientist) and agree that some final shaping for sound needs to be done by hand with a good ear…but SO much can be automated by a CNC, and I think you understand this point.

PS: Go with the XXL


Thanks so much for your helpful and well-thought out reply.
I’ve already watched all your videos, as I’m very attached to the capability to do aluminum machining. Thanks for making them and for all the good advice.

I definitely understand your point re: CAD/CAM. I’m planning to use Fusion360 and have already registered as a user. I also have Rhino 5 which is popular in the guitarmaking community for surface modeling etc. I have a lot of support there, as I have many friends/colleagues who are willing to assist with the CAD aspects in Rhino. Are you using F360 to generate your Gcode? If so, what are you using for motion control?

I also signed up for the free online Udemy course on Fusion360. I know you get what you pay for, but I figured there must be at least something worth knowing in there. Anyone out there used this course?

I wish I could fit the XXL in my shop, but I’m really limited by space (i.e. my shop is about 300SF, and I already have a full complement of manual tools, including a pin router that’s about the same size as a large Bridgeport - plus manual bed mill, 4’ machine lathe, more more more. So - the XL is all I can reasonably fit in here, and the 16" width will cover basically all my needs for guitar-width objects.

I think the Shapeoko 3 XL is the best bang-for-the buck / best performing option. (Obviously biased though).

Lengthy discussion of the SO3 in a guitar-context here:

I did some aluminum engraving in one project which turned out well: (the projects are fixed on the site now).

Yes, I create about 60% of my GCode in Fusion 360, using my custom post (Although the Carbide3D Post works just fine if you remember to raise the Z), and I use Carbide Motion for all my machine control. It works great, I have send over 300 programs through it in the past year with only 2 code 33 errors which are easy to fix.

Really looking forward to the New big update coming with the next GRBL update.

I’ve played guitar since 5 years old and have done my own repairs, electronics, setups etc. I’ve even jigsawed and chiseled a body at one point. (B.C. Rich Warlock clone), but I’ve never tried a neck.

I am a Nomad and Fusion360 user and love the combination and accuracy. I am kind of torn as I would love an XXL since the envelope is a usable size up from the standard SO3, but there is no threaded table available for it. I think it would be a challenge to meet your tolerances without it. I might be wrong and @RichCournoyer can correct me if that is the case. But yeah, I think it’s the best gantry router out there for less than $2000.


Thanks for the reply.

I could fabricate a threaded table if needed, though I’m more likely to build a torsion-box style table with some integral T-tracks for clamping etc.

If the concern is about table flatness for Z-axis accuracy, I think I can get it close enough for my purposes. High-level Z accuracy would be needed for doing something like cutting the radiused fretboard surface, but that’s such a narrow area that you’d only be worried about accuracy in one horizontal axis anyway - and it could easily be close enough given that the surface is final-sanded afterward.

Are you making any guitar parts on your Nomad?


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I think the MDF table with threaded inserts at 50-100 mm intervals is sufficient and as a result the machine is a great machine for wood and light sheet metal machining. strong text

The projects pages are fixed now. You can go look at Will’s nice work.

Your welcome. I haven’t yet, but maybe someday. I actually kind of forgot about that until reading your post. I’m fairly new to CNC machining, but have experience with 2D and 3D design. I’m still setting up my little workspace (bedroom) and investing in tooling, fixturing, measuring instruments etc. I plan on machining knives and molds for a vacuum forming machine I scored at a thrift shop once I get my processes in place. When I purchased my machine, I wasn’t really sure of its capabilities. After a few tests I became convinced with proper fixturing and lubrication, cutting steel and other metals is possible, so I’m working towards that.

Shapeoko XXL is on its way!
I used to buid electric guitars, but I began doing so one and a half years ago. Since then building guitars with only router, jigsaw and my not so good pulse.
I thought about buying a CNC. I dont know nothing about the machine except all the videos in you tube. I am so excited the machine to arrive home, since I like programing and computer designing.
Good luck to everybody and thank you for the names Fusion 360 and Rhino 5. I will investigate more about them.